by Karen Frank
After Nathen Chen landed four quads, his win seemed inevitable. Though the program to Camille Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 by seemed empty between the elements, and the quads didn’t exactly achieve the height and distance of, say a Hanyu or a Chan, they were fully rotated. He received level fours on all of his non-jump elements, and his only error was falling on a triple Axel. “I had initially planned to only do three [quads] but I felt fine going into the competition,” Chen said. “I know my toes are there, the only modification I would do it to put in another triple Axel. My Axels are just off at times so I thought it would be safer to pull a toe rather than an Axel.” For his “safer” program, Chen’s technical mark broke the over one hundred points.
What could beat that? Then Max Aaron stepped out and landed two quads, skating to Black Swan with his customary power and sweeping ice coverage. His free skate score put him behind Chen’s, but his lead from the short held.
It says a lot for his competitive mindset that Aaron was able to lay down that kind of technical performance after hearing Chen’s marks. “When I’m out there, it’s just me against myself. That’s what it has been all about this year – how well can I perfect my craft.”
At that point the expectation was that Aaron would be the winner, followed by Chen and either Ross Miner or Adam Rippon, who came into the event in second and third, respectively. Miner and Rippon, each of whom had one quad planned in their programs, did not have the jump content to equal Chen’s, or even Aaron’s technical display, and though both are strong, well-rounded skaters, it didn’t appear that they would be able to make up the difference with their great spins and steps. Unless they skated better programs than they ever had in their lives… and Rippon did just that.
Shattering his personal best of 169.86 by nearly thirteen points, Rippon performed his Beatles medley with flair, and, more importantly, conviction. The base value of his program was virtually equal to Aaron’s, as the latter doubled out of planned triple Salchow and only received level three on his footwork sequence. “That triple Salchow - that was a tough one,” said Aaron. “That was a mistake on my part, and I think I could have performed the footwork a little better.”
Rippon did not land a quad, but he received 5.50 points for his quadruple Lutz attempt. Squeezing as many possibly points out of the program as he could, Rippon didn’t give up on himself. “It’s been a really long road, filled with ups and downs,” Rippon said. “I knew after I made the opening mistake that I needed to skate clean and perform. I was really glad that I was able to do that today.”
Moving up from sixth to fourth, Grant Hochstein performed a sensitive program to Les Misérables. The program is choreographed perfectly to go with the musical highlights, including a spin that was timed exactly to a violin flourish. Technically, the program was solid, including a quad toe with a step out, and his only other error was doubling out of a planned triple flip.
Miner stepped out a quad Salchow and popped a planned triple axel into a single. Other quality errors on his elements in his program to Queen’s Who Wants to Live Forever and Too Much Love Will Kill You ensured that he would not be able to hold on to second place. With a sixth place free skate, he finished fifth overall.
Hometown boy Alexander Johnson achieved his highest U.S. Nationals finish in sixth place, with the fifth place free skate. Returning to the Eleanor Rigby program that wowed the audiences at the 2013 Nationals in Omaha, Johnson displayed his deep edges and well controlled body positioning. After being off ice for nearly a year after a severe ankle injury, Johnson’s return to this program was a sentimental choice, and given the way he was able to perform it, a correct one.
Note after the event: In the exhibition that followed in the evening after the Men's event, Nathan Chen aggravate a previous hip injury when he attempted what appeared to be a quad toe loop, but his representation later said was a triple toe loop. He went up crooked in the air, and landed awkwardly. Gripping his hip and leg in pain, he glided slowly off the ice, and was place in a wheel chair and take to the hospital for testing. At this time, the extent of the injury is unknown. Chen was selected for both the World Junior and World Championships in March. He has two months to effect a recovery for those events.